Manchester: A Stake is Born

by James Perry, PhD

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the establishment of a Stake is a prominent milestone in the development of the Church in an area. A Stake is defined as a group of congregations with a large membership and five to ten congregations. Membership numbers for Stakes in the British Isles vary but they often include several thousand people. The term stake is based on an interpretation of Isaiah 54:2:

Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes.

The first reference in Doctrine and Covenants to the organisation of a stake comes in section 68, which was a revelation received in November 1831 by Joseph Smith. Several points were received including a commandment that parents are to teach the gospel to their children. The following language is used: “…inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized…”[1] The first stake organised by Church leaders was in Kirtland, Ohio, which took place in February 1834, with Joseph Smith called as the president. Later that year another stake was organised and since that time stakes have been regularly organized.

For most of the Church’s presence in the United Kingdom the country was represented and led by a Mission president. For more than one-hundred years this was the British Mission. A Stake serves an important administrative function in the Church and in the years before Church members in the British Isles grew to the sufficient numbers, scaled back versions of a stake were organised, initially known as Conferences and from the 1920s known as Districts, which remain in use in areas where there are only small numbers of congregations and members. At times, these Conference and District Presidents were local members and at others they were full-time missionaries, all of whom worked closely with the Mission President.

In the 1950s, significant progress was made in the British Isles. A flagship chapel was constructed in central London, a temple was announced, constructed, and dedicated, and thousands of members were baptised across the British Isles. Emigration, which still occurred to a minor extent, significantly decreased when a temple was announced. A sense of permanence was emerging amongst the membership. The renovation and conversion of buildings for use by the many branches helped them escape some of the awful conditions Saints had been meeting in, but the British Saints still did not have the full range of Church programs at that time.

On 26 July 1959, Elder Marion G. Romney attended a five-district conference in Manchester. He was so impressed that he wrote to Church leaders requesting that a stake be formed there. Nine months later, Elder Harold B. Lee, an Apostle, was sent to Europe – change was coming. In mid-March 1960, Elder Lee and his wife, Fern, arrived in London to prepare for the upcoming organisation of the first stake of Zion in Europe. This was a monumental occasion, almost 123 years after the first missionaries arrived the first stake in Europe was to be organised – the British Saints had been blessed from recently having a temple to attend and from receiving the power that came from making sacred covenants there. A stake had seemed far off, but it was now rapidly coming into view. A stake, President J. Reuben Clark once wrote, is one of the ultimate administrative units of the Church. Great honour and great opportunity for service are attached to the establishment of a stake.[2]

The stake organisation was scheduled for later in March and was to take place in the Manchester Hippodrome where a few months earlier a band recently named as Johnny and the Moondogs failed an audition, the band later renamed itself again. Known as the Beatles, they want on to receive worldwide fame.

On 27 March 1960, members from congregations across Northern England gathered in the Hippodrome for the organisation of the stake. At one meeting there were 2,026 people present, which represented 85% of the stake’s membership. “Now you keep that up, President Larsen,” said Elder Lee.[3]

Manchester Hippodrome, Courtesy of Mike Blakemore
Manchester Hippodrome, Courtesy of Mike Blakemore

Elder Harold B. Lee offered valuable advice for the British Saints. “Now what is the purpose of a stake?” he asked the audience, “Why have we thought it advisable to organise you from districts of the Mission into an organised stake?”[4] As Elder Lee explained what a stake was and what purpose they filled, he shared an important message with the audience, the vast majority of whom had been baptised in the previous five years.[5] Of the name of the Church he had the following to say:

He [Jesus Christ] did not say that this was to be known as the L.D.S church, He did not say it was to be known as the Mormon church. He said it was to be known at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

At the heart of Elder Lee’s address was the way the gospel was to be taken forward, particularly in areas where the Church has a small or limited presence.

The evolution of the growth of the Church to a place of stakehood as we speak of it here today, suggests what the scriptures have said. It has been variously quoted, but we say, one of a family and two of a city, or two of a city and one of a family, whichever way you will. Our missionaries go out, as they have done in every new country, and they find one in this city, or two in that family, and these who become converts and baptised members then become the nucleus. It may be, for a season, that there will only be one from that small community who are members of the Church. Perhaps, as their influence and good lives continue there will be a seed, as it were, sown on fertile soil.

For what was to happen to the Church in the British Isles during the 1960s, Elder Lee’s message was a crucial one. The growth in cities, towns, and villages was going to need members to prove valiant while being isolated or without a large congregation around them. The new Manchester Stake, however, was going to provide the leadership, training, and support for members and congregations. It was fitting that Manchester, a city in the heart of the region where so many had embraced the gospel in the early days of the Church in the British Isles, was also the location for the first stake in Europe.

The impetus for the stake began nearly eighteen months before the stake organisation, when President David O. McKay presided at the London England Temple dedication. “This begins a New Era in the British Mission” he had declared to the audience. Now, members young and old could feel the excitement and significance that came with this important moment – it was indeed a New Era for the Saints in Britain.

The man called to lead the new stake was Robert G. Larsen, an American who managed a refinery on the Wirral.[6] “President Larsen might as well be an Englishman,” declared one of his newly called counsellors, “His whole interests are with us. I know he will put everything first towards sustaining the Stake.”[7] He was only in England for a limited time, but he had grown to love the Saints there. As he got up to address his new stake audience he stated:

“I would like to say this to you, my friends, my English, my Scottish, my Irish, my Welsh friends; I love you folks. We have lived here among you now for a year and a half. My family has been accepted by you. And if I have any talents or any experience which can serve you, I really want to do it. I feel humble in this calling. I realise that the hand of the Lord is in our lives. I told you this story that you might see how He works; that you might know that when His prophet speaks, he is not speaking just idle words, but is speaking the truth which has been revealed to him by our Father in heaven. I will dedicate myself to you while I am here and I will be of all the assistance I can. I hope that you will reciprocate and will support us in all that we do, and that we will all work together and make this the very best stake in the Church.”[8]

Robert was to be in England for three years – his short time as Stake President was primarily to assist in the organisation and training of the British leadership. Having grown up in Utah and serving in senior management positions within his company, Robert was ideally positioned to establish the stake. On 18 June 1961, Robert was released as Stake President to return home with his family and his counsellor, William Bates was called as the second Stake President. With his existing experience as a counsellor, President Bates was ideally placed to assist with the many upcoming tasks, an ambitious building programme, the calling of labour missionaries, an accelerated increase of church members, and many other new and exciting opportunities.

Back row: (L – R) Pres. T. Bowring Woodbury, Pres. Alvin R. Dyer, Elder Harold B. Lee, Pres. Bernard Brockbank. Front row: New Manchester Stake Presidency – (L – R) Dennis Livesey, Robert G. Larsen, William E. Bates. Courtesy of Sue Kurezcko Courtesy of Sue Kurezcko
Front row: New Manchester Stake Presidency – (L – R) Dennis Livesey, Robert G. Larsen, William E. Bates. Back row: (L – R) Pres. T. Bowring Woodbury, Pres. Alvin R. Dyer, Elder Harold B. Lee, Pres. Bernard Brockbank.
Elder Lee
Elder Lee calls for sustaining votes for members called to leadership positions within the stake
Elder Lee with members
Members thank Elder Lee for his inspired words

At the time of the Stake’s formation in 1960, there were 14,135 members in the British Isles, of which 2,400 now belonged to the Manchester stake.[9] This number skyrocketed in the coming months and years and within no time the Leeds stake was organised the next year. Initially the Manchester stake was comprised of the following wards: Leeds, Liverpool, Dewsbury, Rochdale, Manchester, Bradford, Huddersfield, Halifax, Oldham, in addition to several branches. But in due course additional congregations were organised and several districts were created from the Manchester stake and they too became stakes in the following years. During the stake organisation a second mission for the British Isles was also established. Named the British North Mission, the new mission included the Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, Irish, and Scottish Districts. The Church in Britain was maturing and growing. Less than a year after the Manchester stake was organised there were four stakes in England and many more to come.

Map of Manchester England Stake after the creation of the Leeds Stake in 1961
Map of Manchester England Stake after the creation of the Leeds Stake in 1961 – created by James Perry

Clarence Corbishley was a recently baptised member when the Stake was organised having been baptised in the Manchester Ward nine months earlier. When Harold B. Lee visited, Clarence was serving on the Branch Presidency, but on that fateful day he was released and called onto the Stake Sunday School Presidency – he had to cover the entire Manchester Stake and help the many branches to establish a Sunday School organisation.[10] Like many other early stake leaders, there was much to learn and many obstacles to overcome. How could they travel around? How could they remain in contact with members in such far off places?

Members listening during the Priesthood session
Members listening during the Priesthood session

Mavis Crisp nearly did not attend the Stake organisation. Serious health concerns posed a barrier to her Church and family responsibilities, but she chose to be there, where she was called as the activity counsellor for the Stake Mutual Improvement Association. Of the experience Mavis recalled the following:

President Lee gave me a blessing which said that I would have the strength given to me to fulfil the many callings the Lord would give me. And I have. There were many times after an event such as camping, I have been in bed, and needing medication. Very often throughout my life, the Holy Spirit has confirmed to me the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in times of trial, and in good times.[11]

Each member of the new Stake Presidency spoke during the meeting – introducing themselves and expressing their gratitude, hope, and faith for the fledgling stake. President Bates, second counsellor, recognised the sacrifices some members had gone to.

I dedicate myself to this cause. I owe a debt of gratitude to all of you who have sustained us and have gone to great lengths to be here. I know that many have travelled all night. There is a sister who has recently been baptised that I met this morning, who has been on night duty all night in the hospital and she has to go on duty again at five o'clock this afternoon. I know there must be many stories of my beloved brothers and sisters who have made these sacrifices to be here. I hope and pray that it has been worthwhile for them.

Church leaders sent messages of congratulations to the new stake. Joseph L. Wirthlin of the Presiding Bishopric wrote the following: “You now stand in the dawn of a history which, through your united and untiring efforts in righteousness, will ever inspire those who follow after you. New horizons in Church service will lure you to greater heights in giving and growing in the service of the Lord.”

Members sustain the new stake authorities
Members sustain the new stake authorities

In a similar fashion, Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote: “Yesterday the Lord pitched the Tent of Zion in a choice spot in His vineyard. Today He is driving Stakes of Zion into the productive soil of distant parts of that vineyard so that the great Tent shall be upheld and established.”

It has been more than sixty years since the Manchester Stake was organised and hundreds if not thousands of men and women have served in its leadership. Over time the boundaries of the stake have grown smaller and smaller as additional stakes were created. As each subsequent generation of youth has moved through the youth programmes, they have benefited from years of leadership, experience, and knowledge as stake leaders continue to train and support ward and branch leaders. Few of those sat in the Manchester Hippodrome that day could imagine how long lasting the decision to establish the Manchester Stake would be. Generations of Latter-day Saints have since attended stake conferences, social events, and been blessed to listen and learn from inspired leaders.

Of course, the establishment of a stake did not diminish the challenges the saints had to face. Now, the admonition of Doctrine and Covenants 82:14 was at the forefront of their minds:

For Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments.

Then, as now, Saints have the task of strengthening themselves and their fellow Saints, to fulfil their responsibilities and duties, and to live the gospel as fully as possible. We are fortunate that today so many Latter-day Saints have the blessing to live within the boundaries of a stake and to be led by inspired and dedicated men and women.

President William Bates, second counsellor in the Manchester Stake Presidency and second President of the Manchester Stake
President William Bates, second counsellor in the Manchester Stake Presidency and second President of the Manchester Stake
Dennis Livesey, first counsellor in the Manchester Stake Presidency
Dennis Livesey, first counsellor in the Manchester Stake Presidency
Robert G. Larsen
Robert G. Larsen, President, Manchester Stake Presidency

The current Manchester Stake President, Matt Evans, says:

“Even today the Manchester Stake is filled with stalwart members who have the “fire of the covenant” in their hearts. They are a wonderful people and the resulting generations of those that pioneered the Stake in 1960 are a living testimony of their diligent service. Our members now come from so many different countries and nationalities, it has become a Stake of worldwide experience and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. With the growth of the city of Manchester and its 3 universities, we have a unique YSA Ward (one of only two in Europe) where this last year it became the first to have enough Chinese YSA members to create its own group. The work is indeed progressing and in the words of Heber Kimball, “...truth will prevail”. “

[1] Doctrine and Covenants 68:25

[2] Manchester Stake 1960-1961, limited circulation pamphlet (Manchester: n.p., 1961), p. 3.

[3] Harold B. Lee, ‘Afternoon Session’, The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, Vol. 122, No. 5 (1960), p. 195.

[4] Harold B. Lee, ‘A Stake Is Born’, The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, Vol. 122, No. 5 (1960), p. 190.

[5] Lee, ‘A Stake Is Born’, p. 188.

[6] Liverpool Echo, 16 August 1960, ‘Mormon Meeting In Our Parish’.

[7] William Bates, ‘President William Bates’, The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, Vol. 122, No. 5 (1960), p. 210.

[8] Robert Larsen, ‘President Robert Larsen’, The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, Vol. 122, No. 5 (1960), p. 207.

[9] Birmingham Daily Post, 21 March 1960, ‘Mormon Church to Have Diocese in Britain’. Liverpool Echo, 16 August 1960, ‘Mormon Meeting In Our Parish’.

[10] Oral history interview with Clarence Corbishley, 8 August 1986, CR 884 50, CHL.

[11] Oral history interview with William and Mavis Crisp, unknown date, CR 884 63, CHL.